The Gloucester Stage Company’s “Spring Awakening”

The Gloucester Stage Company is one of the most important cultural institutions on the North Shore.  Since its founding in 1979 it has produced more than 32 World premieres, six American and 17 New England premieres. Plays developed at the GSC have gone on to critical and popular acclaim on Broadway, off-Broadway, across the United States, and around the world.

And, I’ve never been!

That is, until this weekend, for the opening of the Tony-Award winning musical “Spring Awakening.”  Turns out a warning of explicit language, sexual situations, and brief nudity all unsuitable for children is a sure way to get this Salemite on the commuter rail to Cape Ann.

Melody Madarasz and Phil Tayler as Wendla and Melchior (Courtesy of http://www.gloucesterstage.com )

Lauded on Broadway at its 2007 premiere, “Spring Awakening” injects Frank Wedekind’s 1891 German drama with a modern musical theatre sensibility.  Strikingly, the arrival of an awareness of one’s sexuallity amidst cultural repression remains relevant today, regardless of whether the adolescents in question are wearing bloomers or bikinis.

The confused young, innocent Wendla (Melody Madarasz) expresses about how her romp in the woods with the sensitive and thoughtful Melchior (Phil Tayler) could result in her pregnancy despite them not being married, reflects the sort of disjointed sexual education that is still lobbied for in this country: pregnancy and marriage share no link in natural law!

Wendla and Melchior’s repressors  – mothers and teachers and family friends, all the adults really  – played with good humor and spunk by the multi-talented Amelia Broome and Paul Farwell, sometimes come off as heavy-handed oppressors, rather than over-burdened authorities doing the best they know with the social mores available to them.

Similarly, the cast is remarkably young. Most are students at the Boston Conservatory, and Ross Mumford in a stand-out performance as angsty and troubled Moritz makes his professional stage debut.  They’re gay, tempestuous, free and talented.

Occasionally their glee and certainty in celebrating their subversive choreography and language brings out the little old man within: “Be careful that you think you know more than you do;” “Put some socks on!” “I don’t think that’s really the word you mean?”

They’ve nevertheless been given some pretty stellar support: intriguing choreography, emotive vocals, and a mechanical bridge which adds visual interest to the otherwise bare stage but the narrative function of which I couldn’t quite parse.

“Spring Awakening” is a work of challenge —  for both audiences and the companies that present it.  For this audience member, the GSC’s production was a delightful shock.  I’m looking forward to further challenges this season; I hear there’s some simulated drug use coming up.

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Spring Awakening

through July 14

The Gloucester Stage Company

gloucesterstage.com

Jonathan Simcosky blogs at jonathansimcosky.com

*Feature Image: “The Company.” Photo courtesy of http://www.gloucesterstage.com/

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